Usually at this stage of the week I do a prediction piece for the upcoming hurling games at the weekend. Well, the two inter-county games that are on tomorrow (Wexford v Galway and Dublin v Tipperary) have already been covered in my piece last week. If you want to see the way I feel those matches going, just read my piece from then (please do), so I feel it’s only right I cover a game that, in the hullabaloo over Grand Slams and what not, was unfairly overlooked.
Last week’s final was probably the best game of such a nature in the last 25 years. Sure, that may be partially a comment on the standard of All Ireland club hurling finals themselves. It’s rare to have a game that really hits the mark, often because the disparity between teams is too great. Of course, we’ve had legendary sides in the past, but for some reason their peaks never dovetailed beautifully. So yes, we can remember the likes of Ballyhale, Portumna, Birr, Athenry and so on, but rarely did the games between them ever produce a classic.
With last week’s encounter, there were no such fears. There’s no question, with one being the 2016 champions and the other being the 2017 equivalent, that these are the two best clubs sides in the country. And there’s no doubt that there’s very little between them either. But who has more to gain from the replay?
Now obviously there was a sense of fear with both sides in the initial game. And when you’re coming up to face the likes of Con O’Callaghan and Shane Dowling in particular, that’s only natural. So the sweepers employed by both sides are likely to remain in place and we’re not going to see an avalanche of scores-in particular-goals, but there’s still a hell of a lot of intrigue.
Here’s one takeaway from the game last week: Na Piarsaigh notched an impressive 2-15 from play, while Cuala managed only 10 points. Now you can read that in one of two ways: either Cuala had an off day, and still have plenty left in the tank, or that Na Piarsaigh simply have more scoring power than their rivals.
I’m sure followers of the South Dublin side will argue that it was just a blip, and that their rivals were so concerned about the potential goalscoring power of Cuala they would rather foul them than face the threat from open play. They may also argue, with a certain level of justification, that no one holds the likes of Con O’Callaghan and Marc Schutte two days in a row, and after coming up against the unfamiliar sight of the sweeper in the last game, they will be more attuned as to how to overcome it this time.
The flip side of that argument is that with the likes of Shane Dowling, Peter Casey and Kevin Downes on the other side, Na Piarsaigh are not short of scorers themselves. Not only that, but after a bloody semi-final against Slaughtneil, Na Piarsaigh can call on two of their regulars, Conor Boylan and Thomas Grimes, two All-Ireland under 21 winners no less, back from suspension. And with Shane Dowling missing a very scoreable free before the end of normal time, they will feel they were more deserving of the sides if there was to have been a winner last weekend.
So it’s not an easy game to predict by any metric, and considering that replays often bear very little relation to drawn games, it gets even more difficult. But, even by the most infinitesimal amount, it seemed that Na Piarsiagh were the stronger side last week, so now with those two influential players back, we’re giving the Limerick men a very hesitant nod.
VERDICT: Na Piarsaigh by 2